Just over two weeks ago, UNC softball announced its slate of fall games, giving the team opportunities to prepare for the upcoming spring season.
The Tar Heels ended their 2020-2021 season with an overall record of 14-26 and a conference record of 10-19. So far this fall, the team has competed at home against ECU and Elon, as the schedule exclusively features teams within the state of North Carolina.
With a win at home versus Elon for their second scrimmage, more boosts of confidence are yet to come both throughout the fall and into the spring.
Sophomore Kiannah Pierce, who was awarded UNC softball’s Rookie of the Year Award last season, noticed the improvements the team made in its two scrimmages so far.
“I'd say like the first to the second scrimmage, we've done a good job of making the adjustments," Pierce said. "Our second scrimmage, obviously, we actually won the game. So we did better. We're really just focusing a lot on hitting the ball consistently."
On Friday, the Tar Heels will be traveling to UNC-Greensboro for their first away game since May, where they lost to North Carolina State in Louisville, KY. during the first round of the ACC Tournament.
While the team may have had a disappointing 0-14 record on the road last season, Pierce said they are feeling confident and able to rise up to the challenges ahead of them.
“We kind of struggled in the previous year, we didn't start the season off as well as we wanted to," Pierce said. "So I feel like I'm just excited to prove to those teams that we’re competition, whether they believe it or not."
One of those challenges is the loss of team leaders Brittany Pickett and Kristina Burkhardt, both of whom graduated last year. Burkhardt demonstrated an outstanding batting average of .333 last season while Pickett currently holds the UNC record for most career saves.
But with defensive and offensive strength coming from both incoming players and veterans, head coach Donna Papa has no doubt about what her team can accomplish in each game.
“I'm just really excited about this team, and I think we have nowhere to go but up," Papa said. "And we have some high goals in terms of trying to get back into the ACC championship game, and coming out on top there and getting back to regionals, to the NCAA."
The energy at and around outdoor sporting events has seen a turnaround this year, with games returning to full capacity.
For senior infielder Abby Settlemyre, the excitement to get back on the field with her team and in front of the fans is intensified after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
"It's been over almost two years since I've played an actual game," Settlemyre said. "So I'm really, really excited to be out there. And I feel like we have a really tough and competitive schedule. So I'm excited for that, too."
UNC softball’s next home game will be against North Carolina Central University on Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. in Anderson Stadium, and its last home game of the fall will be against North Carolina A&T on Oct. 15 at 5 p.m.